Hurricane Evacuation sign with traffic

How to prepare for a hurricane

May 27, 2015

As hurricane season begins in June, it is crucial to know how to prepare for weather emergencies. Whether you live on the coast or several miles inland, you can be affected by hurricanes, tropical storms or flooding that will occur starting in hurricane season through late November.

“Planning and knowing what to do ahead of time can help you avoid dire situations when hurricanes make landfall,” says Jennifer Horney, Ph.D, MPH, CPH, associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, who has conducted extensive research on hurricane evacuations and flood risks.

Evaluate your risks

The first piece of advice Horney imparts is to, “know your surroundings, and know your risks.”

When preparing for a hurricane, the most important thing to know is your geographical risk. By knowing if you live in a flood-prone area, or where the best elevation is in your neighborhood, you can better plan for an emergency.

You should know these factors before the hurricane or flood hits your location so you can plan the best escape route, in case evacuation becomes necessary.

Make a plan

After you evaluate your risk factors, make a plan. Know where to go and how to get there, in the event that local authorities issue an evacuation order.

Plan with your neighbors and friends, so that everyone knows what to do when the hurricane makes landfall. Horney affirms that people tend to rely on their friends and neighbors to make decisions. By planning together, you can avoid confusion in the face of an emergency and depend on one another to get to safety.

If you are not able to evacuate, you should go to the safest place in your house or community is so you can “shelter-in-place” while the storm passes. Be sure that everyone in your group knows the plan and where the safest locations are, in case you become separated.

Contact your doctor and local health department

“The number one unnecessary trip to the emergency room after disasters is because people need refills on their prescription,” says Horney, who recommends that you refill any prescriptions before the storm so you have enough to last the duration of the hurricane. If you have a preexisting or chronic condition, contact your physician before the storm reaches you. This way, you can plan a way to manage your condition.

“Especially if you have medical needs—like oxygen—that require electricity, then you really must have a plan, because you need to know where you’re going to go and ensure that you have what you need,” says Horney.

If you need electricity for treatments like oxygen or dialysis, then you can often register your address with your local health department or power company. According to Horney, the health department may use this list to prioritize and try to provide power or assistance to vulnerable populations.

Registering with your local health department or power company won’t guarantee that you will have power, but it will notify them to your presence.

Build an emergency kit

One of the most beneficial preparations you can take is to build an emergency kit. However, a kit can be expensive and requires a lot of planning. In order to lessen the burden, Horney suggests acquiring one item per week. By doing so, you can alleviate the financial burden and avoid having to run to the store when the storm arrives and everyone else is rushing to grab last-minute items.

Some important items to include are:
•    Three-day food and water supply per person
•    First aid kit
•    Extra medication and prescription glasses
•    List of medications
•    Flashlights with extra batteries
•    Local maps
•    Toilet paper
•    Sanitary wipes

Be sure to pack enough food and water for each person and pet to last at least three days. The amount of water necessary for each person is one gallon per day, with children and nursing mothers requiring more.

Pack three days worth of nonperishable food items, such as whole grain cereals and high liquid content canned foods. Avoid foods that will make you thirsty, such as salted crackers and nuts. When packing the food, remember to consider any special dietary needs.

Obtain a pet carrier

In addition to the basic items recommended, Horney suggests people with pets add a carrier to their lists, because, “Research has shown that a big barrier to evacuation is that not having a carrier for your pet.”

By having a carrier available, you can evacuate when needed without having to worry about your pet. “If there’s a disaster, the PETS Act of 2006 requires all communities address the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals,” Horney states.

For additional information and advice on how to prepare for a hurricane, please visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

— Elizabeth Grimm

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